The knock on gasoline isn’t just that it pollutes as it burns, it’s also that it’s an incredibly wasteful conductor of energy. While it stores energy incredibly well (better than any battery we’ve managed to invent), when you get that energy out by burning, the vast percentage of that energy is lost to heat. And putting a pot of boiling water and a turbine in a car isn’t a viable engineering solution.
But a new alloy engineered at the University of Minnesota may solve this problem by being able to convert heat to electricity. The alloy itself is composed in such a way that when heated it becomes strongly magnetic. The magnet can then produce electricity in a coil. Here’s a video of the alloy being heated and suddenly magnetized:
This could have any number of applications: Nearly all mechanical processes produce waste heat. If you surrounded a car engine with this material and used it to charge a battery, you would get a much more efficient hybrid. Computers get quite hot, but what if they were equipped with a material that converted that heat to power, allowing them to draw much less electricity from the wall. The material is sensitive enough that the scientists even posit they could use it to exploit temperature differences in the ocean, generating power as warmer water passes by.
Actual uses of the alloy (Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10, if you’re being technical) are probably far off, but it’s a great opportunity and a great reminder of the opportunity to–while we’re waiting for an entire clean energy economy–to engineer ourselves out of our wastefulness.
[Image: Public Domain Photos on Flickr]